In the coming months and years, generative AI is going to be inescapable. Google and Microsoft seem to believe that many of us would rather converse with an AI than just see all of the relevant results when we search for something. Conversational AI chatbots like ChatGPT and Bard might indeed be the future of search engines, but according to Bloomberg, Amazon wants to overhaul product search with the same technology, and it sounds like a terrible idea.
Upon reviewing Amazon’s recent job listings, Bloomberg found an opening for a senior software development engineer. The listing reveals that the company is “reimagining Amazon Search with an interactive conversational experience.” Amazon claims the AI will answer questions, compare products, and provide personalized suggestions.
“We’re looking for the best and brightest across Amazon to help us realize and deliver this vision to our customers right away,” Amazon said in the listing on its jobs board last month. “This will be a once in a generation transformation for Search.”
In a second job listing reviewed by Bloomberg, Amazon said the prospective employee would be part of “a new AI-first initiative to re-architect and reinvent the way we do search through the use of extremely large scale next-generation deep learning techniques.”
Buzzwords aside, it sounds like Amazon wants to turn product searches into conversations with artificial intelligence. Although the Amazon search experience unquestionably leaves much to be desired, I’m pretty confident that conversational AI will only make it worse. If anything, Amazon’s search experience needs to be streamlined, not complexified.
Over the years, browsing Amazon for products has become increasingly unwieldy. Right now, if I head to Amazon.com and search for “toothbrush,” the first four options are all sponsored results. Beneath that are four seemingly legitimate results that the algorithm picked for me, but right after that is yet another selection of five sponsored results. Of the 13 products I saw in my search for a new toothbrush, nine of the results were glorified ads.
This is less than ideal, and it’s why I typically do all the research I need to do outside of Amazon and then go straight to the product page if I need to buy something from Amazon.
On the one hand, given how messy and overstuffed Amazon searches have become, AI might actually be a viable solution. At the very least, Amazon could explain precisely why it’s surfacing some of these products by sharing key differences between them and even citing my previous purchases to tell me why I might like this toothbrush over that one.
On the other hand, sponsored listings are a significant part of Amazon’s business, so they aren’t going away, with or without the AI. For all the problems I have with Amazon’s search experience, at least it loads quickly, and I’ve had enough training to know how to sort through the junk to find what I need. If I have to wait for a generative AI chatbot to unspool a 500-word dissertation on a collection of toothbrushes, most of which are only there because someone paid for them to be there in the first place, I might find somewhere else to shop online.